Thursday, October 13, 2011

Caribbean Monk Seal

Captive Monacus tropicalis
The Caribbean Monk Seal is the only Pinniped to have ever gone extinct due to human involvement. They also have the distinction of being the only Caribbean Seals, and one of the very first animals described by Columbus in the 15th century (his crew killed and ate eight of them).

Caribbean Monk Seals once swam the waters of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. They were large seals, measuring nearly 3m long. Like with many Pinniped species, the males were larger than the females. They fed on fish, octopuses, and crustaceans.

Caribbean Monk Seals were hunted for their oil, and were killed my fishermen who didn't want to compete with the large predators. It didn't help that the seals were very slow on land, not very aggressive, and could be easily hunted. The last officially spotted Monk Seal was seen in 1952 at Seranilla bank between Jamaica and the Yucatan. Interestingly the species wasn't considered endangered by the US Government until 1967, when it was already way, way too late.

Spottings popped up here and there over the decades, but none could be scientifically confirmed. The IUCN listed them as extinct in 1996. In the 2000s, searches to locate any remaining Seals turned up nothing, and they were declared extinct by the US Government in 2008. Sadly, the two other Monk Seal species, found in Hawaii and the Mediterranean, are on the sharp decline towards extinction today.

IUCN Status : Extinct since the 1950s
Location : Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico
Size : Length up to 8ft (2.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Suborder : Pinnipedia -- Family : Phocidae -- Genus : Monachus -- Species : M. tropicalis

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